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March Madness News and Notes

March Madness News and Notes

Bracket Analysis
By Brian Edwards

With three Big East schools garnering No. 1 seeds, the first thing the 2009 NCAA Tournament reminds me of is the 1985 Big Dance. Back in ’85, three Big East schools (Villanova, Georgetown and St. John’s) advanced to the Final Four at Rupp Arena in Lexington, where the Wildcats cut the nets down after stunning the Hoyas in the finals.

Twenty-four years later, Pitt, Louisville and UConn are top seeds along with North Carolina. The Cardinals are the overall No. 1 seed after beating Syracuse in the Big East Tournament finals and also capturing the league’s regular-season crown.

UNC, Pitt and UConn failed to make the finals of their respective conference tournaments. Therefore, all three teams are in bounce-back mode and are well rested if you value either of those characteristics.

Oklahoma’s late-season slump caused it to slip to a No. 2 seed in the same region as North Carolina. Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened the Sooners as 18-point favorites for their first-round matchup against Morgan St., which is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.

The MEAC champs are coached by Todd Bozeman, who had success in the Big Dance at California in the early 1990s. Bozeman recruited Jason Kidd to Berkley before he was fired and subsequently banned from coaching for nearly a decade by the NCAA. He has resurfaced at Morgan St. and led it to a win over Maryland earlier this season.

The other second seeds are Duke, Michigan St. and Memphis. The Blue Devils haven’t made it out of the tournament’s first weekend the last two years. They’ll face Binghamton in the first round before a potential showdown against the Texas-Minnesota winner.

Memphis is in the same region as UConn if you’re thinking about potential Elite Eight matchups. The Huskies haven’t won a postseason game of any sort since 2006. That’ll most likely end against Chattanooga, which won the So-Con Tournament by beating Bobby Cremins’ College of Charleston squad.

I mentioned it in my Selection Sunday blog and I’ll touch on it here again. North Carolina could get all it wants in its second-round game against the Butler-LSU winner. We’ve seen UNC struggle to defend high-scoring guards like Wake Forest’s Jeff Teague, Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez, FSU’s Toney Douglas and Boston College’s Tyrese Rice.

LSU has a scorer like that in Marcus Thornton. In addition, Trent Johnson has a pair of big-time defenders in Tasmin Mitchell and Garrett Temple, both of whom combined to shut down J.J. Redick in a Sweet 16 win over Duke in the 2006 tourney when both players were freshmen.

If you’re into geography for the Big Dance, let’s point out a few factors of note. Florida State has to travel to Boise, ID., while Utah, Arizona and Arizona St. will play in Miami. Not only does UCLA have to fly to Philadelphia, but it might also have to play Villanova in a second-round game. (That won’t happen, though, as I have VCU taking out the Bruins.)

The Selection Committee certainly didn’t do Mississippi St. any favors. The Bulldogs, who had to play four straight days in winning the SEC Tournament, got a No. 13 seed despite winning 23 games. Plus, they have to go to Portland and play on Thursday.

As for advantages in staying close to home, we have several examples beyond the one we just mentioned (‘Nova in Philly). Ohio St. will play in Dayton, while Duke and UNC get to play in Greensboro. Gonzaga and Washington get to play in Portland, while the other six teams playing at the Rose Garden are either from the Eastern or Central time zones.

In my mind, there are two forms of sleepers for the NCAA Tournament. When I talk about a true sleeper, I’m talking about a team that doesn’t have a four seed or better but can really win the whole thing.

The first team that comes to mind for me is West Virginia. I see Bob Huggins getting the Mountaineers back to the Sweet 16 again this year and there’s no ceiling for this squad.

Other true sleepers that are capable of getting to Detroit include Clemson, Texas, LSU and Arizona St. The Sun Devils have a star in James Harden, who is capable of pulling a John Wallace circa ’96 or a Danny Manning circa ’88.

Clemson has limped down the stretch but Oliver Purnell’s team can play with anybody, as evidenced by the pimpslap it gave Duke earlier this year. Texas was inconsistent all year and a one-and-done showing wouldn’t shock me, but the Longhorns are talented enough to catch fire.

Another type of sleeper is a double-digit seed with a good shot at getting to the Sweet 16. These teams don’t truly have a chance to win it all. The only double-digit seeds to make the Final Four are George Mason in 2006 and the 1986 LSU squad led by Ricky Blanton and Anthony Wilson. Both were No. 11 seeds who lost in the national semifinals.

I see a half-dozen double-digit seeds that can be dangerous. Western Kentucky crashed the Sweet 16 last season and the Hilltoppers will have no fear of Illinois and/or the Gonzaga-Akron winner. Temple has a chance against anyone on a night when Dionte Christmas is hot. The Owls will face Arizona St. in the first round.

Wisconsin has a lot more NCAA Tournament experience than FSU, which is a three-point favorite at most books. The Badgers get after it defensively and Tallahassee Democrat Sports Editor Jim Lamar sent word via e-mail Sunday night that, “FSU has struggled against grinder teams. I would like the ‘under’ blind. This is a sixty-something, fifty-something game.”

I personally thought the total should be 127. LVSC sent out 124 as the opening tally.

I think the ‘Noles will get past Wisconsin, but they do go through stretches where they struggle to score. Toney Douglas is the only player who averages in double figures.

Michigan is a No. 10 seed to watch. The Wolverines will take on a slumping Clemson squad and if they move on, Oklahoma would be the presumed opponent and we’ve all seen the Sooners limp down the stretch.

Finally, there’s VCU and Mississippi St. The Rams will upset UCLA and they might knock off Villanova, too. Anthony Grant can’t be happy about the prospects of taking on the Wildcats in their home city, but that’s the draw VCU faces. Remember, Maynor and Co. knocked off Duke two years ago and took Pitt to overtime before falling in the second round.

For the same reasons I tabbed MSU as my sleeper team in the SEC Tournament, I think the Bulldogs will be a tough out. For starters, they have the nation’s best shot blocker in Jarvis Varnado. Secondly, they have streaky perimeter shooters that all have deep range. Perhaps most importantly, freshman point guard Dee Bost is playing like a veteran and is a player that can break down defenders off the dribble.

The fun starts Thursday. Happy March Mayhem to everyone!

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--LVSC released its future odds late Sunday night, making North Carolina the 2/1 ‘chalk.’ Pitt has 4/1 odds, while Louisville is listed with a 9/2 number. UConn (5/1), Duke (10/1) and Memphis (10/1) round out the top contenders. Michigan St. has 25/1 odds, while Kansas and Oklahoma are 30/1.

--The most attractive future wager to me is Syracuse at 50/1. I’m not against plays on these longshots for a very small amount: FSU (80/1), Texas (100/1) and Clemson (100/1). Oklahoma is certainly worth consideration as well at 30/1.

--I look forward to watching the nation’s most underrated guard (VCU’s Eric Maynor) take it to the country’s most overrated guard (UCLA’s Darren Collison) in a nice first-round matchup at the Wachovia Center. LVSC opened the Bruins as 10-point favorites, but most spots had UCLA at 7 ½ as of late Sunday night.

--Biggest Snub: Saint Mary’s beat Morgan St. 76-60 and took out Utah St. by double digits on BracketBuster Saturday without Patty Mills. The Gaels beat bubble teams San Diego St. and Providence away from home. They went on the road and beat Oregon and So. Illinois. We can’t blame Saint Mary’s for not scheduling because no one knew the Ducks and Salukis would both field their worst teams in a decade. Randy Bennett’s team was 16-1 and had a seven-point lead at Gonzaga when Mills was injured. Mills isn’t back to 100 percent, but he’s able to play. The Gaels got hosed.

--The best part of watching the replays of Eric Devendorf’s waved-off buzzer beater that nearly won Thursday’s six-overtime classic in regulation? That would have to be Bill Raftery’s timely analysis instantly after Sean McDonough’s solid play-by-play call when Raft exclaimed, “ONIONS!”

--Biggest cherry picker in college basketball history: Devendorf.

--When UConn won the 2004 title, its regional finals win came against Alabama in Phoenix. The Huskies would have to go through the desert again in order to make it to Motown.

--If Pitt and FSU meet in the Sweet 16, it would be a rematch of a game played in Tallahassee on Dec. 21. The game was tied at 48-48 with 1:51 left when Sam Young sparked the Panthers on an 8-0 run to close the game. Bettors backing Pitt minus 7 1/2 cashed tickets in the 56-48 Pitt victory. Young had a game-high 21 points, while FSU's Toney Douglas had 20.

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Re: March Madness News and Notes

A look at how the NCAA tournament might turn out
The Associated Press

The season started with people predicting as many as 10 teams from the Big East making the NCAA tournament's field of 65. OK, it came up a little short with only seven teams being included, but all were seeded sixth or better and a record three of them were No. 1 seeds.

So here's a look at the NCAA tournament from someone who saw every minute of all 15 games of the Big East tournament, including all six overtimes in the Syracuse-Connecticut quarterfinal classic (seedings in parentheses, winners in uppercase):

LOUISVILLE (1) vs. Alabama State-Morehead State winner (16) - If the Cardinals swept both titles in the Big East, this should be a walkover.

SIENA (9) vs. Ohio State (8) - The Saints knocked off Vanderbilt in the first round last year, and most of that team is back.

UTAH (5) vs. Arizona (12) - Most people didn't even have Arizona in the field. Luke Nevill, a 7-2 center, leads a solid Utah defense that will have the Wildcats out.

WAKE FOREST (4) vs. Cleveland State (13) - The Demon Deacons were ranked No. 1 for a week this season, and the Vikings aren't good enough for another surprising run like 1986.

WEST VIRGINIA (6) vs. Dayton (11) - The Mountaineers like to switch defenses, and Dayton won't be able to come up with another close win.

KANSAS (3) vs. North Dakota State (14) - The Jayhawks open defense of their national championship against a team which made the tournament in its first season in Division I.

SOUTHERN CAL (10) vs. Boston College (7) - Coach Tim Floyd got the Trojans turned around in time to win the Pac-10 title; it should help that the Eagles are one of those teams that seems to only get up for big-time opponents.

MICHIGAN STATE (2) vs. Robert Morris (15) - It would be a shock if Robert Morris could handle the Spartans on the boards.

LOUISVILLE vs. Siena - The Cardinals' pressure will be too much for the Saints' guards.

WAKE FOREST vs. Utah - The Demon Deacons are big enough up front to offset Nevill, and they are just too good in the open court.

WEST VIRGINA vs. Kansas - The Mountaineers' 1-3-1 zone with 6-9 freshman Devin Ebanks on the top will make it tough for the Jayhawks to get their offense going.

MICHIGAN STATE vs. Southern Cal - The Spartans are very physical, and their Big Ten style should prevail over the Trojans' fullcourt pressure.

LOUISVILLE vs. Wake Forest - This should be one of the most entertaining games in the tournament, but the Cardinals will keep their end-of-season roll and 3-point success going.

WEST VIRGINIA vs. Michigan State - The first of the Big East's impressive wins will be because of the zone forcing the Spartans into an outside shooting contest.

LOUISVILLE vs. West Virginia - These teams had a close one to end the Big East regular season but that was in Morgantown not at a neutral site with a Final Four berth at stake.

CONNECTICUT (1) vs. Chattanooga (16) - The Huskies are one of the few teams to enter the tournament on a two-game losing streak. It's over against the Mocs.

TEXAS A&M (9) vs. Brigham Young (8) - Mike Singletary of Texas Tech can't help BYU with 29 straight points like he did against the Aggies in the Big 12 tournament.

PURDUE (5) vs. Northern Iowa (12) - The Boilermakers finally seem to be over the various injuries that slowed them in the regular season.

WASHINGTON (4) vs. Mississippi State (13) - The Huskies were stunned by a loss in the Pac-10 tournament. The Bulldogs were stunned by winning the SEC's.

MARQUETTE (6) vs. Utah State - The Golden Eagles have lost five of six, but all the losses were in the Big East to ranked teams.

MISSOURI (3) vs. Cornell (14) - The Tigers' all-out style for 40 minutes should wear down the Ivy league champs.

MARYLAND (10) vs. California (7) - The Terrapins have triumphed in some must-win games lately, and the Golden Bears haven't.

MEMPHIS (2) vs. Cal State Northridge (15) - The nation's longest winning streak will reach 25 games without much of a problem.

CONNECTICUT vs. Texas A&M - The Huskies have plenty of people up front to share the load of stopping Aggies forward Josh Carter.

WASHINGTON vs. Purdue - Big man Jon Brockman should be able to lead the Huskies to the second weekend.

MARQUETTE vs. Missouri - Even without injured point guard Dominic James, the Golden Eagles have a lot of veterans, and the Tigers don't have a lot of postseason experience.

MEMPHIS vs. Maryland - The Tigers are one of the best defensive teams in the country, and they have plenty of people to cover Greivis Vasquez.

CONNECTICUT vs. Washington - Hasheem Thabeet, the 7-3 shotblocker, will dominate inside, and Connecticut's veteran guards should prevail in this battle of Huskies.

MARQUETTE vs. Memphis - The Golden Eagles are very good on the perimeter defensively even without James, and the Tigers are a poor 3-point shooting team.

CONNECTICUT vs. Marquette - The Golden Eagles' run ends at the hands of another Big East team, because the Huskies just know them too well.

PITTSBURGH (1) vs. East Tennessee State (16) - The Panthers should be a beast coming off a Big East quarterfinal loss to West Virginia.

OKLAHOMA STATE (8) vs. Tennessee (9) - The Cowboys can really fill it up from 3-point range with four players who have hit at least 50.

WISCONSIN (12) vs. Florida State (5) - This is more than the mandatory 5-12 upset, this is a tough defensive team taking advantage of a team of NCAA newcomers.

XAVIER (4) vs. Portland State (13) - The Musketeers have struggled down the stretch, but they can score from every position.

VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH (11) vs. UCLA (6) - The Bruins don't travel well in the NCAA tournament. Their three-year Final Four streak should end across the country at the hands of the tough combo of Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders.

VILLANOVA (3) vs. American (14) - The Wildcats could take cabs to the game at the ``other'' home court and still have money for a hot dog.

TEXAS (7) vs. Minnesota (10) - The Longhorns started the season as a Top Ten team, and when A.J. Abrams is hitting 3s they still look like one.

DUKE (2) vs. Binghamton (15) - The Blue Devils won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, while the Bearcats won the America East.

PITTSBURGH vs. Oklahoma State - The Panthers' strength inside will offset the Cowboys' perimeter success.

XAVIER vs. Wisconsin - The Musketeers can get out and run to score, and the Badgers have trouble when teams do that.

VILLANOVA vs. Virginia Commonwealth - Villanova's balance will be a problem for the Rams, who rely so much on guard Eric Maynor.

DUKE vs. Texas - This should be a push from 3-point range, but the Blue Devils do a better job of scoring off turnovers.

PITTSBURGH vs. Xavier - The Panthers' frontline, especially center DeJuan Blair, won't have much trouble against the Musketeers.

VILLANOVA vs. Duke - The Wildcats' guards do a great job on defense, and Dante Cunningham is better inside than anyone the Blue Devils have there.

PITTSBURGH vs. Villanova - The Panthers and Wildcats split in the regular season with Villanova's win coming when DeJuan Blair was saddled with foul trouble.

NORTH CAROLINA (1) vs. Radford (16) - The Tar Heels are 25-1 in NCAA games in their home state.

BUTLER (9) vs. Louisiana State University (8) - The Bulldogs are a lot like Xavier, a team that handed the Tigers a convincing home loss.

WESTERN KENTUCKY (12) vs. Illinois (5) - The Hilltoppers won two games last season and their advantage here was the absence of injured Illinois guard Chester Frazier and the fact the Illini have a lot of trouble scoring.

GONZAGA (4) vs. Akron (13) - The Zags are a well-rounded team that is still reeling from a first-round loss to Davidson last season.

ARIZONA STATE (6) vs. Temple (11) - The Sun Devils lost to USC and its pressure in the Pac-10 final. The Owls just can't match that.

SYRACUSE (3) vs. Stephen F. Austin (14) - The Orange have become a national favorite since their six-overtime win over Connecticut.

MICHIGAN (10) vs. Clemson (7) - The Wolverines' zone spreads opponents out and causes upsets like the ones over Duke and UCLA.

OKLAHOMA (2) vs. Morgan State (15) - The Sooners have a lot more than Blake Griffin.

NORTH CAROLINA vs. Butler - The Bulldogs might keep it close, but they don't have a Tyler Hansbrough or Ty Lawson.

GONZAGA vs. Western Kentucky - Both teams are balanced, but the Bulldogs are deeper.

SYRACUSE vs. Arizona State - Syracuse's 2-3 zone should make it tough for James Harden to get his teammates involved.

OKLAHOMA vs. Michigan - Having several good guards will allow the Sooners to handle the zone and allow Blake Griffin to have his usual 20-10 outing.

NORTH CAROLINA vs. Gonzaga - North Carolina has had trouble with quick guards like Jeremy Pargo, but most teams have had a hard time with the Tar Heels having so many players who can score.

SYRACUSE vs. Oklahoma - The Orange's zone has plenty of size in the back to try and slow down Griffin. Jonny Flynn, the point guard who played 67 minutes against Connecticut, will make it tough on the Sooners.

NORTH CAROLINA vs. Syracuse - It's hard to believe all those players who decided to return to Carolina for a chance at winning a national championship wouldn't reach the Final Four.

CONNECTICUT vs. Louisville - The Huskies beat the Cardinals handily in Louisville, and Thabeet and Jeff Adrien will take away going inside as an option, putting a lot of pressure on the Cardinals' outside shooting.

PITTSBURGH vs. North Carolina - Blair against Hansbrough should be entertaining, but the Panthers' inside defense should make the difference.

CONNECTICUT vs. Pittsburgh - The third meeting between these teams will cap the Big East's dream tournament, and the Huskies will finally get the best of the Panthers, giving coach Jim Calhoun his third national championship.

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Re: March Madness News and Notes

The Four Tops
By M Lawrence

“When you snap your fingers or wink your eye I come a-running to you. I’m tied to your apron strings and there’s nothing that I can’t do. Can’t help myself, no, I can’t help myself.”

When it comes to March Madness there’s not much to do other than give into the moment. It’s the most exciting show on earth. In terms of sheer excitement nothing tops it. Sixty-four teams will go toe-to-toe in a one loss and you’re done event to determine the best college basketball team in the land.

As we prepare for the first two rounds of action this Thursday through Sunday it’s been told to us by the Tournament Committee that the best four teams are the No. 1 seeds, namely Louisville, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Connecticut. If they are, indeed, the best college basketball squads in the land then, as the Four Tops were know to exult, it’s understandable that “I can’t help myself” when it comes to casting support their way. After all, No. 1 seeds are 125-9 SU and 70-63-1 ATS during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament since the 1991 season.

There is good news and bad news, however, when it comes to backing No.1 seeds during the first two rounds of this event. Consider, since 1991, the following:

No. 1 seeds carry their weight in the first two rounds against teams off an upset win.
Often times carrying plenty of weight (read: favoritism) because of their lofty status, No. 1 seeds expose opponents that are euphoric off upset wins. That’s confirmed by their glossy 33-2 SU and 24-11 ATS mark in their first two rounds.

Best of all, bring these top seeds in as favorites of 8.5 or less points up against an opponent off a SU underdog win and they are a perfect 10-0 SU and ATS.

No. 1 seeds off back-to-back SU and ATS wins have trouble with the impost during the first two rounds.

Like too much of anything that’s good, No. 1 seeds can’t seem to handle the pressure added by the oddsmaker in games the first two rounds of this tourney when playing off wins and covers in each of their last two contests. While they are 24-3 SU they are just 11-16 ATS in this role.

Bring the opponent in off a win and they dip to 5-14 ATS.

There you have it, a pair of time-tested plays both ‘on’ and ‘against’ the top seeds during the opening week of the tournament. One thing is certain. Like millions of fans nationwide I’ll be glued to CBS all throughout March Madness. Someone please “shake me, wake, when it’s over.”

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Re: March Madness News and Notes

Location, Location, Location
By Joe Nelson

There has been a lot of talk about the location advantage various teams will enjoy in the NCAA tournament. Given the rotation of tournament sites and the intention to give top seeds a geographical advantage, some teams will inevitably have a more favorable road. Of course a favorable path to the final four means nothing if a team is upset early and there are several recent examples where a big fuss was made after the brackets came out only to have the advantage become completely irrelevant. Here are some of the teams that may have an edge based on geography in the tournament.

MIDWEST (Indianapolis)

#1 Louisville

Distance to Dayton, OH: 152 miles
The Cardinals were given the #1 overall seed in the tournament and would have a very friendly path to the championship in terms of locations, going from Dayton, to Indianapolis, to Detroit. The main threats in a potential sweet 16 match-up would be at a huge location disadvantage unless Cleveland State can make a Cinderella run. A regional final that could feature Michigan State or Kansas would be much more evenly matched. The potential 2nd round match-up against Ohio State could be an interesting game as although Louisville is closer to Dayton than Columbus, facing the Buckeyes in the state of Ohio would be a dangerous situation.

#8 Ohio State

Distance to Dayton, OH: 223 miles
The run to the conference tournament final clearly upgraded the seeding for the Buckeyes and Ohio State has to be thrilled to be in Dayton for the opening games. The first game is a very tough match-up as many have pegged Siena as an upset pick and the Saints made noise with a first round upset in last year’s tournament. It will certainly be a challenging game but do not discount how big of an edge it is to get this game so close to home. A second round game against Louisville would obviously be a challenge but a rare favorable location for the underdog in a 1-8 match-up.

#14 North Dakota State
Distance to Minneapolis, MN: 238 miles
Expect the Metrodome to be filled with Bison fans for the opening tournament game in Minneapolis on Friday. Granted it was a down time for Minnesota’s football program in 2006 and 2007 but NDSU fans outnumbered Minnesota fans when the teams met in football those years and it was an electric atmosphere. The Bison were already going to be a dangerous draw for any team in the first round and getting this venue edge could really make things interesting should Kansas not come ready to play. A short drive from Fargo will be no problem for the fans and unlike some of the other venues, this early game will have a packed house.

WEST (Glendale)

#1 Connecticut

Distance to Philadelphia, PA: 239 miles
Some Huskies fans might be upset about getting shipped out West but the pod format allows the first two games to be played close to home. Connecticut fans will have to fight with Villanova fans over spare tickets but this should be a very favorable set-up for the Huskies to improve on some recent unsuccessful tournament appearances. The two teams in the 8-9 match-up face significant travel to get here and even potentially facing Washington in Glendale would not be much of a disadvantage for a sweet 16 game as it will be a new venue for both teams.

#4 Washington
Distance to Portland, OR: 176 miles
It is rare to see a convincing champion in the Pac-10 seeded this poorly but the Huskies will be glad to accept a spot in Portland and hope to eventually meet another Huskies squad in Glendale. Mississippi State made a great SEC tournament run but the Bulldogs will be at a huge disadvantage given the long travel, time change, and local fan base. A short trip from the Seattle area should not deter fans and there will already many UW alums and fans in the Portland area that probably already had tickets to these games.

#11 Utah State
Distance to Boise, ID: 305 miles
Things are much further apart out West but this is a nice draw for the Aggies, playing in a WAC venue that they are familiar with and facing a very manageable distance to travel compared with their opponent. Marquette has a great fan base but the injury to Dominic James and the slumping finish could lessen the enthusiasm for making a trip to Boise in March. Marquette has to be disappointed that they did not get a spot in Minneapolis, Dayton, or Kansas City.

EAST (Boston)

#1 Pittsburgh

Distance to Dayton, OH: 255 miles
The top seeded Panthers also received a choice venue for their opening games and although Boston is a much further distance than Indianapolis for potential sweet 16 and elite 8 games. Oklahoma State and Tennessee both present a tough match-up in round two and Tennessee fans would also have a very reasonable trip up to Dayton should that match-up occur. Aside from Michigan State, Pittsburgh would be the closest elite team to the Final Four venue in Detroit.

#2 Duke
Distance to Greensboro, NC: 56 miles
The Blue Devils have to be pleased to stay close to home especially after an early exit from last year’s tournament. The advantage could come into play in a big way in the second round as Texas and Minnesota will feel out of place among Tar Heel and Blue Devil fans. None of the regional venues would have presented a great edge for Duke but Boston would likely have been the preferred choice.

#3 Villanova
Distance to Philadelphia, PA: 17 miles
The Wildcats have the best opening venue of any team in the tournament as they actually play a few regular season games at the Wachovia Center each year. American will not have far to make the trip but this venue should be filled with fans for the Wildcats and the Huskies. The most likely second-round opponent UCLA would be at an incredible disadvantage in the second round, basically playing a true road game, and a cross-country one at that.

#11 Virginia Commonwealth
Distance to Philadelphia, PA: 243 miles
This is a nice draw for the Rams, who made noise in the tournament two years ago with an upset of Duke, and keep in mind that the Colonial Conference produced the great George Mason run a few years ago. Although this is a manageable trip for VCU the advantage comes in the opponent UCLA having to make a cross country trip. The Bruins have been dealt very favorable venues the past three years in Final Four runs, if they get there again they will have really earned it this year.

SOUTH (Memphis)

#1 North Carolina

Distance to Greensboro, NC: 53 miles
UNC earned one of the top seeds and gets to share this venue with Duke for a very favorable setting in the opening games. Moving deeper in the tournament would shift the Heels to Memphis, but no team in this region would have a great advantage in that location as it is still a healthy trip from Norman and a serious journey from Spokane or Syracuse. Radford is only 137 miles away from Greensboro but it likely will not matter in round one.

#2 Oklahoma
Distance to Kansas City, MO: 368 miles
The Sooners will not be that close to home but will at least stay in Big 12 country and have a reasonable trek that should not prevent fan turnout. If Oklahoma moves on, they would be far closer to home than any other potential foe in Memphis although it is still quite a distance. With the lack of a powerhouse team in the SEC or in Texas, and with Memphis ineligible to play here, this South region basically is filled with leftover teams that had nowhere else to go.

#4 Gonzaga
Distance to Portland, OR: 352 miles
The South region would not be complete without a stop in Portland as the pod system allows for the bracket to be put together creatively. Spokane is on the eastern side of Washington so this is not as close of a venue as you might think but it should still be a very favorable location for the first two games, should Gonzaga play two games for a departure from the last few years. Gonzaga gets great support in the northwest so there should be a strong turnout for these games, giving the Bulldogs a leg-up on the competition en route to the sweet 16.

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Re: March Madness News and Notes

Early Round Handicapping
By Scott Spreitzer

When the NCAA Tournament starts Thursday, I think the single most important key for handicappers will be getting an early read on the true strengths of the various conferences.

Let me ask you this. What does it mean when a second place team in a major conference has SEVEN league losses? Is it a mediocre league with a bunch of “go against” teams? Or, is it a very strong league where everyone’s beating each other up?

This isn’t a trivial exercise:

Two teams tied for second in the Big Ten have SEVEN losses in conference play (Illinois and Purdue). The next three teams in the standings are knotted at 10-8. This is probably as close to true parity as a major conference can get. Michigan State is alone at the top. Indiana was alone at the bottom. Everybody else was close to even. Does the Big Ten have a lot of good teams who kept beating themselves up? Do they have a lot of below average teams who kept winning because somebody had to win? The answer will trigger several pointspread winners in the Big Dance.

The second place team in the SEC has SIX losses. In fact, going into the conf tourney there was a three-way tie for second-best in that league…with Tennessee, Auburn, and South Carolina knotted up. Perceptions are that the SEC is MUCH worse this year than in the past. Auburn and South Carolina had their “bubbles” burst. Was this actually a competitive league featuring teams capable of March surprises? Or, is it a very bad league where the contenders will be blowout fodder for the “real” powers in the sport?

The second place team in the Pac 10 is pretty good (UCLA). But the two teams tied for third have SEVEN losses! That’s Arizona State and California. Here we have another conference with a lot of parity. I’ve heard people say that the Big Ten isn’t very good, but the Pac 10 is great. The shape of the standings is very similar though. Are we about to learn that the Pac 10 is mediocre, but the Big Ten deserves more respect? How can seven conference losses be a compliment in one place but an insult in another?

The Big 12 doesn’t get bunched up until places four through seven in the standings, where everyone is 9-7. But it should be noted that national power Oklahoma and respected Texas both lost to Arkansas in pre-conference action. Arkansas would go 2-14 in the SEC this year. If two of the better teams in the Big 12 couldn’t beat lowly Arkansas, and the Razorbacks went 2-14 in what appears to be a struggling conference, and Kansas was able to win the Big 12 title with a bunch of new players, is THIS about to become an unexpected disaster area? The upsets in the league tournament sure surprised a lot of people!

So far I’ve mentioned four of the traditional “BCS” conferences in college sports. The other two are the Big East and the ACC, who seem to have a stranglehold on the best teams this year. Is THAT an illusion because their conferences didn’t have depth?

I have to say, I don’t recall there ever being this much mystery about the big time conferences heading into the NCAA Tournament before. Even if you have the Pac 10 properly pegged internally, or the Big 12, or the SEC, how confident can you be that you know how everyone will perform when they get thrown on the Dance floor with everyone else and the music starts?

Here are some tips:

Review how all tournament teams played in non-conference play action, particularly when they were on the road facing teams from the top leagues. I’ve done this myself, and some very strong clues are jumping off the page.

Study the early-week NIT results as games are played before the NCAA Tournament even gets under way. Historically, there have been some “early warning signs” for overrated conferences on the NIT scoreboard. Of course, there is the NIT caveat, which some teams care about it more than others.

Be proactive once the Dance begins in rating the conferences. Don’t just think team-by-team. Think conference-by-conference as you’re watching the games. If there’s parity in the Big Ten, and Pac 10, and Big 12, then early results for those leagues are likely to foreshadow later results for better or worse.

Learn “from the edges” when evaluating each conference. If the teams who just barely got in are doing well, then everyone from that league may be stronger than you think. If the teams at the very top are doing poorly, then everyone from that league may be worse than you think.

Watch for the basic fundamentals of basketball execution. If a team is making a lot of turnovers, that’s a strike against its whole conference. They managed to post a winning record despite being turnover prone! If a team is putting up bad shots on offense, or allowing easy scores on defense, it reflects badly on their league as well. Conversely, if one of the last teams to get an invite from a league, is executing well and playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played, there’s a good chance their colleagues will be doing that too. If the pundits are right that the Pac 10 is better than the Big Ten, it will show up in these areas very quickly.

I firmly believe that the difference between handicapping success and failure this year will come from the ability to gauge conference strengths. Those who read and react correctly will be able to race to a fantastic record. Those who aren’t thinking about the issue will spend too much time spinning their wheels.

SOMEBODY is going to break through and make a statement.

SOMEBODY is going to be a disaster. Frankly, I’m expecting at least two conference-wide disasters from major leagues, and possibly as many as three. I’m going to stay open-minded though because I know this is a story that’s going to write itself once the results start coming in.

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Re: March Madness News and Notes

Top 10 tourney betting tips

When March Madness rolls around, no one is immune to the itch, whether it’s laying down a bet or simply competing in an office pool. Luckily Covers Expert Ted Sevransky shares his Top 10 NCAA Tournament strategies with us.

Fade the public teams

While teams in the Top 25 often pique the interest of Joe Public, the smart bettor looks for good spots to bet against favorites. Fading overvalued clubs can make a big difference to your bottom line.  You should especially look to go against teams that went all out to win their conference tournament, like Syracuse and Mississippi State this year.

Ride the hot, fade the cold

Pay attention to streaks, particularly early in the tournament. When betting on a hot team to continue winning you can profit many times before the streak ends. Betting against streaks, you can only win once.

Winning your office pool requires luck

When filling out brackets, the single most important thing is to pick the eventual champion correctly, since the final game is weighted the most. Many office pool players work too much on picking the early round upsets and not enough on their Final Four teams.  The vast majority of Final Four teams are top-seeded teams: No.1, No. 2 or No. 3 seeds.

Defense, defense, defense

While a flashy offense looks great, defense wins championships. Shooting percentage allowed is a key stat, a far better indicator of defensive intensity than points per game. Look for underdogs that play championship level defense.

Free throws cover pointspreads

Free throws given up and attempted is another key statistic. When one team gets to the free throw line far more often than its opponents, it means that it plays fundamentally sound defense and is aggressive on offense. Remember, an 8-point favorite that is winning by two can cover the spread in the final thirty seconds of the game if it is capable of hitting its free throws.

Don’t forget rebounding

Rebounding differential is crucial to examine. The better rebounding teams tend to dominate the paint, getting easy looks while their opponents are relegated to shooting jumpers from the outside. The extra possessions that good rebounding teams are able to get can have a huge impact on their results.

Look at the guard play

Veteran leadership in the backcourt is one common denominator among championship caliber teams.  Strong guard play results in fewer turnovers and extra assists – more easy buckets and less wasted possessions.

Throw out the records that don’t matter

When teams play in the NCAA tournament, they are facing top-notch competition away from home.  Looking at their records and stats against weaklings, particularly at home, is utterly irrelevant from a handicapping perspective. Look at how squads performed against upper-echelon foes away from home for a clearer indicator of their potential.

Be aware of home-court advantages

While the NCAA tournament is purportedly played on neutral floors, the selection committee gives relatively friendly trips to a handful of teams. Ohio State, North Dakota State, Washington, Duke, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Villanova Oklahoma, Louisville and Utah State will all enjoy some sort of a home-court edge in the first round of the tourney this year.

Follow the lead of the pros

In the NCAA tournament, many amateurs enter the betting world for the first time all season. These square bettors tend to back favorites and overlook schools from smaller conferences. Professional bettors are far more knowledgeable about smaller conferences and that gives them an edge when analyzing on-court matchups. If you need help, don’t be afraid to rely on the advice of the pros here at Covers Experts.

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Contrarian View on the NCAA Tournament 1st Round
by Evan Altemus

I'm a big believer in looking at the past in order to predict the future, so I decided to take a look at last year's 1st round games.  One surprising trend was that favorites went 21-10 against the spread and #1 and #2 seeds were 5-3 against the spread as well.  One game had a spread with a pick ?em spread, which is why there are only 31 games being looked at here.  My theory is that the betting public lines up on underdogs during the 1st round of the NCAA tournament.  Oddsmakers know this and release lines that present excellent value with favorites.  Let's take a closer look at this idea to see if it was an anomaly last year or something worth looking at in this year's tournament.

First and foremost, the topic which generates the most interest during March Madness is which team is going to be this year's George Mason or Davidson.  In addition, the average person is trying to figure out which underdogs will pull off the upset this year in the 1st round.  So much talk is about these potential "Cinderella" teams, that most of the seeds around the #3-#7 range are ignored.

The betting public is also fixated on these Cinderella teams as well.  The average bettor focuses on which 1st round underdogs to take, instead of looking for value with under-rated favorites.  The oddsmakers know this as well, which is why they don't give most of the favorites enough points in the 1st round.  Last season teams like Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Butler, Marquette, Michigan State, Xavier, Pittsburgh, and Louisville were put on supposed upset alert, as they all faced teams which the supposed experts on television and betting public thought were capable of pulling the upset.  However, the previous list of favorites all got dominating wins over their opponents, and most of their wins from a point spread perspective were never in doubt.

Let's also take a look at last year's 1st round games involving the following seeds where the public is fixated on picking upsets:  3rd seed vs. 14th seed, 4th vs. 13th, 5th vs. 12th, 6th vs. 11th and 7th vs. 10th.  Let's remove the St. Mary's vs. Miami game from our discussion, as that game had a pick 'em point spread.  That leaves 19 match-up to take a look at.  The favorites in those games went an astonishing 14-5 against the spread!  Siena, Kansas State, Villanova, San Diego, and Western Kentucky were the only teams to cover against the spread, and they all won outright.  Essentially, these games involving teams on supposed upset alert had favorites go 74%.  The few underdogs which did cover won outright.  However, I don't consider Kansas State or Western Kentucky true bracket buster underdog winners, as they were very evenly matched talent wise with their opponents.  In fact, the argument could be made that they shouldn't have been underdogs.  Kansas State had Michael Beasley and Bill Walker, while Western Kentucky had Courtney Lee.

Bottom line, from a betting perspective, try to look at undervalued favorites in the 1st round, as the betting public will be lining up on the underdogs.  This time of the year is one of the rare occasions where the value is on the favorite, as the public will be looking for upset shockers.  Oddsmakers know this and have adjusted the lines accordingly.  Picking and betting on favorites is not as exciting but making money is.  Although, I'd rather be boring, pick the favorites, and have a profitable 1st round.

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Re: March Madness News and Notes

Sleeper Teams
The Gold Sheet

Let’s call it the year of the “soft” bubble.

The annual announcement of the NCAA’s field of 65 teams for its hoop extravaganza was not without the usual controversies on Sunday. As ESPN’s Dick Vitale (when not sparring with ex-Dookie Jay Bilas) reminded everyone on Sunday’s Bracket Review show, there is going to be controversy every year no matter how many teams make the Big Dance. Expand the tourney to 68 teams, Dickie V. reminded us, and team number 69 will feel snubbed. Expand it to 128 teams, and number 129 will feel jilted. Although none other than Vitale’s new colleague at ESPN, Bob Knight, seems to believe 128 teams might indeed be a proper number to invite. And “The General” might have a point, because that number would only require one more round of games, which could be played at home courts of the higher-seeded teams. We suspect, however, that the resultant confusion might cause all of talking heads on TV to collectively implode. Imagine breaking down an almost ceaseless succession of first-round games such as Central Florida vs. Minnesota, with the winner to face the survivor of the Richmond vs. Texas battle.

No thanks, 65 teams is just fine by us.

But in comparison to past years, we don’t think there was quite the controversy regarding the final at-large selections as there has been in most recent years. And that’s because there were some unique characteristics about the just-completed regular-season and conference tourney schedules that differed from past seasons. The proverbial “bubble” was a soft one this season, with the final teams at the cut line having more flaws that we can recall in the recent past. Part of the reason was the fact that a normal power conference such as the SEC endured something of a down campaign, with fewer Big Dance-worthy entries than usual (although we’ll talk more about the SEC’s plight in a moment). Also, it was not a terribly deep year for the mid-major conferences. In particular, the Missouri Valley Conference, which a few years ago had numerous teams in contention for NCAA at-large berths, ended up with no at-large reps for the second year running. The Mountain West (which bristles at being classified as a mid-major loop) was probably the best of the mid to upper-mid level leagues this season, but in the end could land no more than one at-large team. For the second straight year, the WAC was a one-bid conference. The WCC, a 3-bid league in 2008, was a single-bid loop in 2009.

When the dust settled on Selection Sunday, only four at-large bids (Xavier, Dayton, Butler, and BYU) had been awarded to mid-major conferences, and even that number was inflated due to upsets in the Atlantic 10 and Horizon Tourneys. It also reflects the continuation of what we believe is a troubling pattern wherein the mid-majors are collectively losing their influence with the Selection Committee. Since 2003, the number of mid-major at-large reps in the Dance has gone from 10 to 12 in 2004, but then on an unmistakable downward path (9, 8, 6, and 6 the four previous years to 2009). The at-large playing court continued to tilt toward the major, BCS schools for the fifth straight year.

It was also a year in which more “bid thieves” than usual stole spots in the Big Dance via conference tourney action, knocking some teams off the bubble in the process. There were an inordinate number (four) this season, with upsets in the Horizon (Cleveland State), Pac-10 (Southern Cal), Atlantic 10 (Temple), and SEC (Mississippi State) effectively KO’ing the tourney hopes of four other bubblers. A couple such upsets are usually expected each season, but by any measure, four is a big number.

The main controversy on Selection Sunday, and one in which Vitale and Bilas argued vigorously on ESPN, was the inclusion of 19-13 Arizona into the Big Dance field, apparently at the exclusion of 26-6 Saint Mary’s. There’s no reason to rehash the details of that debate, which was officially settled when the Selection Committee chose to overlook the Wildcats’ so-so 9-9 Pac-10 conference mark, poor 2-9 mark on the road, and 5 losses in their last 6 games because of UA’s strong non-conference schedule that included home-state wins over eventual protected seeds Gonzaga and Kansas. Losses vs. UAB, Texas A&M, & UNLV apparently didn’t hurt the Wildcats. Regardless, we don’t have a real problem with Arizona getting what appears to be the final Big Dance bid.

But we might be the only ones who remain a bit perplexed at the favored treatment the Wildcat program appears to occasionally receive from the NCAA. And, not to sound conspiratorial about the whole thing, but Arizona has gotten the benefit of the doubt before, and we’re still trying to figure out what sway the Wildcats seem to have with the Selection Committee.

Indeed, UA’s inclusion as one of the last at-large teams into the 2009 Dance isn’t as curious as its invitation a year ago, when in-state rival Arizona State was bypassed from the Big Dance entirely despite having finished with better overall and conference records than the Wildcats, not to mention beating UA in both regular-season meetings. Although the Committee wouldn’t comment specifically that Arizona received a bid at its most-hated rival’s expense last season, try convincing that to Sun Devil HC Herb Sendek or any ASU fan, still livid that their Sun Devils didn’t get their named called on last year’s Selection Sunday, while a less-deserving Arizona made the final cut. (The Sun Devils, by the way, still apparently steamed about last year’s snub, did their best to keep the Wildcats out of this year’s Dance by beating them all three meetings, including what appeared to be a do-or-die game for UA’s NCAA hopes in the first round of last week’s Pac-10 Tourney.)

But we also recall back to 1996 during the height of Lute Olson’s powers in Tucson. That year, the Wildcats finished behind defending national champion UCLA in the Pac-10 standings and lost twice to the Bruins, yet UA was still rewarded a far-more preferable NCAA assignment (a 3 seed in the West Region and the nearby Tempe sub-regional) than UCLA, which could do no better than a 4 in the Southeast Region and shipped to the Indianapolis sub-regional, where Jim Harrick’s last Bruin team was famously upset by Pete Carril’s last Princeton team, 43-41.

What troubled us then were rumors we occasionally heard in previous years from west coast sources that Arizona was always going to receive “favorable” treatment from the NCAA as long as Olson was coaching the Cats and Dick Schultz was executive director of the NCAA. Schultz, if you recall, preceded Olson as Iowa’s basketball coach in the early ‘70s, and the supposed “word” out west was that Lute knew where the skeletons were buried on Schultz’ watch in Iowa City, and that Schultz would always treat Arizona kindly. Schultz eventually resigned from his NCAA post in 1993 (well before the 1996 Big Dance) when allegations of improprieties were brought to light from Schultz’ days as Virginia’s AD, but his successor at the NCAA in ‘93 was none other than...Cedric Dempsey, who just happened to move from Arizona’s AD chair straight into the executive director’s post at the NCAA.

Now, we’re not going to infer that there were improprieties in the Arizona basketball program that were overlooked because of the connection Olson and the Wildcats had within the corridors of power in the NCAA, or that there was anything sinister about the preferential treatment Arizona has occasionally received from the Selection Committee (Dempsey, after all, retired from his NCAA post in 2002). So, we’re just going to assume that it’s a coincidence the Wildcats continue to get the benefit of the doubt from the Selection Committee.

As for the composition of this year’s field, it didn’t surprise us too much. In our final “bracketology” update on Sunday morning, we hit all but two teams into the Dance, putting Saint Mary’s and Kansas State into the field and leaving out Arizona and Wisconsin. We had backed away from some of our earlier projections that had us favoring Providence and as many as five SEC reps making the final cut. Once the bubble began to shrink with the conference tourney upsets, we knew the Friars were in trouble, and upon further inspection of SEC candidates South Carolina and Florida, we concluded that their shallow non-conference marks would probably prevent their inclusion into the field. Although we still believe the Gamecocks, Gators, and Auburn (which we had as a provisional choice, to be bumped if Mississippi State won the SEC Tourney, which the Maroon did) are better than some of the eventual at-large entries, including many from the Big Ten. Bob Knight, by the way, apparently shares that view with us about Auburn, as he said the Tigers and his own preferred choice, Penn State, were both better teams at the end of the year than several at-large qualifiers. And we also maintain that the SEC was collectively downgraded more than necessary. Although not every team played a robust non-league schedule, SEC reps nonetheless scored some impressive wins outside of conference play (Kentucky beating West Virginia, SEC West cellar-dweller Arkansas bouncing Oklahoma, Tennessee beating full strength Marquette, as well as toppling Georgetown when the Hoyas were a ranked team) that were rarely mentioned by anyone observing the evaluation process. Indeed, those non-conference wins actually compared rather favorably with the Big East, as we mentioned in one of our cover stories in early February. And we indeed think Auburn, South Carolina, and Florida are all better than some of the at-large entries, although we reluctantly understand the rationale that kept all three out of the Big Dance field.

Nonetheless, we stand by our belief that the Big Ten got way too much respect from the Selection Committee with its seven bids, and are comforted by the fact that none other than Bob Knight shares our view. “As I’ve watched Big Ten basketball this year,” said The General when taping the Survive and Advance Show in Las Vegas with Billy Packer Sunday night, “I don’t think they’re anywhere close to the Big East or the Atlantic Coast Conference. I think they’re a long way from both of those conferences.” We’d agree.

If there was anything to be gleaned from the decisions of the Selection Committee, it’s that strength of schedule remains a terribly important component in the evaluation process. And for that, we will give a nod to Arizona, because the Wildcats always play a challenging series of non-league opponents, whereas the likes of Penn State, Auburn, and South Carolina played non-league schedules more suited to impress the NIT selection process. Still, we probably would have placed Saint Mary’s in the field at Arizona’s expense.

After all, we don’t have any Wildcat connections looking over our shoulders.

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Re: March Madness News and Notes


Every year, the first round of sub-regional action is spiced up with the presence of several non-major conference reps who on occasion have collectively provided excellent pointspread value in early-round games. The best of these teams have even been able to score first-round wins in recent years. Following are a few such entries we believe have the capability of stealing an opening-round game.

Siena...We’re reluctant to even put Siena in the “sleeper” category, since the Saints have been awarded a single-digit seed (9) for their opening-round game against Ohio State. And remember that Siena throttled Vanderbilt, 83-62, in first-round action last March. With the same team returning for HC Fran McCaffery, the Saints could cause problems again, with a well-balanced lineup featuring sr. G Kenny Hasbrouck (14.8 ppg) and 6-6 swingman Edwin Ubiles (14.6 ppg), a hellacious matchup for smaller guards or slower forwards, and bruising PF Alex Franklin (13.6 ppg), who provides a ferocious interior presence. Meanwhile, PG Ronald Moore (6.3 apg) is a seasoned floor leader. The Saints are finely tuned, smart, and unafraid after their success last season and non-conference tests vs. the likes of Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Pitt, and Kansas in which Siena was competitive vs. all. We’ll also bet that the CBS cameras will love McCaffery’s wife Margie, who might get as many camera shots as Stephen Curry’s mom Sonya did a year ago.

Virginia Commonwealth...
Like Siena, the Rams know what it’s like to win in the Dance, having dumped Duke in the first round two years ago. Some of the faces have changed since 2007, but the main catalyst, sr. G Eric Maynor (22.4 ppg & 6.2 apg), is still around and better than ever, flourishing with the new 3-point line that has opened up the floor for him to create more shots and looks for teammates. VCU is quick and very athletic, and also has some size with high-jumping shot-blocker 6-10 F Larry Sanders (11.3 ppg & 8.7 rpg and dominant in the paint vs. George Mason in the CAA title game) and bruising 250-lb. Russian import Kirill Pischalnikov on the blocks. The Dance is also an audition of sorts for HC Anthony Grant, a former Florida assistant who could be in line for the opening at Virginia or the expected opening at Georgia. Note that Colonial reps have also covered 7 of their last 9 first-round NCAA games.

Cleveland State...The Vikings shouldn’t be overlooked by first-round foe Wake Forest. Ask Syracuse HC Jim Boeheim, who watched in stunned silence as Viking G Cedric Jackson hit a 60-foot shot at the buzzer to beat the Orange at the Carrier Dome last December, 72-69. Or ask Butler HC Brad Stevens, whose Bulldogs couldn’t shake CSU in three games this season, winning by 1 and 2 in regular-season play before getting upset by CSU in the Horizon Tourney finale at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Or ask Bob Knight, whose Indiana Hoosiers were famously upset by Kevin Mackey’s Vikings way back in 1986, CSU’s one and only previous trip to the Dance. The program has been resurrected by HC Gary Waters, who once steered Kent State to the Dance in 2001 before moving to Rutgers and eventually resurfacing in Cleveland three seasons ago. The Vikes lost an NIT first-rounder at Dayton last year but return many of the same components, including fierce 6-5, 240-lb. PF J’Nathan Bullock (15.3 ppg), 6-1 swingman Norris Cole (12.9 ppg) & the aforementioned ex-St. John’s G Jackson (10.5 ppg). Besides the shock win at Syracuse and the battles vs. Butler, the Vikes also played West Virginia tough at Morgantown, losing by only 10.

Portland State...
Looking for another “off” team that could actually win a first-round game? Consider Big Sky tourney champ Portland State, which knows its way around the NCAAs after a fairly respectable showing in the first round vs. eventual champ Kansas (an 85-61 winner) last season. The Vikings were good enough to win at Gonzaga in December, blew a decent Boise State team off of the court in February’s Bracket Buster, and lost by only 1 at Pac-10 regular-season champ Washington. The Vikes start 3 Gs and aren’t that big, but can fire away from the perimeter with a collection of long-range bombers that includes 5-6 mighty-mite Jeremiah Dominguez, a former U of Portland transfer and onetime Oregon HS player of the year who leads a balanced lineup at 12.8 ppg. Fourth-year HC Ken Bone, a former Lorenzo Romar assistant at Washington, is now mentioned as a candidate for most job openings in the region (sources believe he could possibly take over at Oregon if Ernie Kent gets dismissed, or would be first in the queue if the respected Craig Robinson is lured away from Oregon State). The matchups aren’t too bad for the Vikings in their first-round game at Boise vs. Xavier, which has been bothered by occasional backcourt inconsistencies this season.

The following entries will be harder-pressed to score a first-round upset, but could make matters interesting nonetheless.

Stephen F. Austin...The Southland Conference champ had a taste of postseason play a year ago when losing at UMass in a first-round NIT game. But the Lumberjacks had injury problems at the end of last season and enter this year’s Dance healthy and rolling, with 8 straight wins, including a 68-57 triumph over UT-San Antonio in the Southland title game. SFA HC Danny Kaspar essentially employs a pair of PGs in his starting lineup, including the 5'3 Eric Bell, who was recently joined by juco Girod Adams in the starting five to reduce the physical battering the diminutive playmaker Bell routinely receives from bigger opponents. The tiny Bell or not, however, the ‘jacks still finished runners-up nationally in scoring defense (55.8 ppg) for the second straight year and boast of the last two Southland MVPs in rugged 6-9 sr. C Matt Kingsley (16.1 ppg) & 6-4 sr. swingman Josh Alexander (14.5 ppg). This team has some interesting dimensions, with an interior presence in Kingsley, lots of experience (3 sr. starters), and a rugged defensive work ethic installed by Kaspar. SFA won at Drake and OVC Tourney finalist Austin Peay (by 39!) in pre-league play and lost by only 7 vs. Texas A&M at College Station. Note Southland reps are 3-0-1 vs. the line in first-round NCAA action since 2005.

North Dakota State...One of the best stories in this year’s Dance, the Bison made the NCAA Tourney in their first year of eligibility in the Summit (nee Mid-Continent) League after the transition process to D-I status was finally complete. With 2008-09 in mind, a stellar freshman class was redshirted five years ago by then-HC Tim Miles (now at Colorado State) in hopes of hitting the jackpot when NDSU became a full-fledged D-I team, and the Bison now start four RS seniors from that class. Two of those, dynamic 5-11 G Ben Woodside (22.8 ppg, 6.3 apg & 43% treys, plus the game-winning shot in the Summit title game vs. Oakland), and versatile 6-6 F Brett Winkelman (18.7 ppg) provide a dynamite 1-2 punch for 2nd-year HC Saul Phillips, who was promoted after Miles moved to CSU in 2007. The Bison won their Bracket Buster at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and almost won at Pac-10 Tourney champ Southern Cal in December. NDSU hooks defending national champ Kansas in the opening round, but the Minneapolis venue is the most-convenient for the Bison (thousands of NDSU fans expected to make the 3 1/2-hour trip, which is just around the block in that part of the country). And Big Dance historians know that the Jayhawks under Bill Self have also been first-round upset victims in the recent past, losing to Bradley in ‘06 and Bucknell in ‘05.

The Patriot League champ Eagles are back in familiar territory, having lost respectably (and covering handily) in first-round action last year vs. Tennessee, and return with essentially the same team as a year ago. AU, coached by former Virginia HC Jeff Jones, boasts of an effective inside-outside sr. combo in G Garrison Carr (17.8 ppg) and rugged 6-8 F Brian Gilmore (12.4 ppg, 53% from floor including 42.3% from tripleville when floating out to the perimeter). Only Memphis enters the Dance with a longer win streak than the Eagles’ 13 in a row, and AU won’t blink at the prospect of facing Villanova after already having been in pretty tough this season, losing at Oklahoma, Georgetown, and Maryland (and only really whipped by the Sooners).

Morgan State...Mid-Atlantic observers believe the Bears (coached by the resurrected ex-Cal HC Todd Bozeman, who was in coaching purgatory for almost a decade) are as good as the best MEAC reps from the recent past such as Steve Merfeld’s 2001 Hampton (which upset Iowa State) and Ron “Fang” Mitchell’s 1997 Coppin State (which upset South Carolina). Non-conference results indicate as much, as the Baltimore-based bunch won at DePaul, Marshall, and Maryland, was competitive in losses at La Salle, Saint Mary’s, and Washington, and whipped local rival Towson in the Bracket Buster. Bozeman’s 3-G lineup features electric 6-4 jr. G Reggie Holmes (16.9 ppg) and relies upon rugged 6-5 Cal transfer Marquise Kately (11 ppg) & 6'8, 240-lb. frosh Kevin Thompson (7.2 ppg) for the grunt work in the paint. The Bears didn’t blow it as they did in last year’s MEAC Tourney when upset by Fang Mitchell’s Coppin State, this year taking care of Norfolk State in the conference title game. Although toppling first-round foe Oklahoma will be a tall order, keep in mind that MEAC reps have covered their last nine first-round games (that excludes the play-in games that MEAC teams have lost the previous three years).

But if there is one thing to remember about the little guys (and we’re not counting reps from normal “board leagues” such as the Colonial or Horizon) who score a first-round upset, it’s that the celebration usually doesn’t last much longer. Of the eight opening-round surprise winners the past four seasons (Bucknell & Vermont in 2005; Bucknell again, plus Montana & Northwestern State in 2006; Winthrop in 2007; and Siena & Davidson last season), only Stephen Curry’s 2008 Davidson has either won or covered in second-round action.

The bottom line? Enjoy the Davids of the Big Dance while you can. Because like it or not, the Goliaths of college hoops are going to take over the proceedings soon enough.

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Three teams that could bust your bracket

First-round upsets are nice, but if you want to really pick up some points in your pool and some cash at the betting window, nail a couple of Cinderellas that reach the Sweet 16.
Here are three candidates capable of pulling off a pair of shockers this week.

Cleveland State: vs. Wake Forest (-7.5)
Friday, in Miami, Fla.

For a team that reached No. 1 in February, the hype surrounding Wake Forest has evaporated.

The young Demon Deacons failed to show up in a second-round loss to Maryland in the ACC tournament.

Now, they travel down to Miami, where they already experienced a 27-point loss to the Hurricanes a month ago. Bad February losses at Georgia Tech and North Carolina State add to what is a growing question mark on Wake Forest.

While Wake stumbles into the tournament, Cleveland State arrives oozing with confidence, after beating nemesis Butler for the Horizon League tournament championship.

The Vikings are balanced, with three players averaging double figures, and exceptional on defense, allowing less than 60 points a game.

They also have a hot senior guard in Cedric Jackson, who averaged 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists in the Horizon tournament.

Jackson is one of three senior starters on team that goes eight deep.

If Cleveland State does pull off the upset of Wake, the Vikings will have a favorable matchup against the Arizona-Utah winner.

Southern Cal (-2): vs. Boston College
Friday, in Indianapolis

USC found its stride in late February and hits the NCAA tournament playing its best basketball.

The Trojans loss six of seven to start February, five of which came on the road. But they ended the season with consecutive wins over Oregon and Oregon State.

They were extremely impressive in winning the Pac-10 tournament, especially against UCLA and in a thrilling comeback against Arizona State in the title game.

USC has just the right kind of mix to make a run. Four Trojans—Daniel Hackett, Taj Gibson, Dwight Lewis and Keith Wilkerson—will be playing in their third NCAA tournament. Toss in the NBA talent of DeMar DeRozan, who finally took his game to the next level in Pac-10 tournament, and USC is not only a very scary opponent for Boston College, but also for a possible second-round showdown with Michigan State.

Mississippi State: vs. Washington (-5)
Thursday, in Portland

Mississippi State isn’t your typical 13th seed by any means.
The Bulldogs are athletic, solid in the backcourt and boast the tournament’s top shot blocker in Jarvis Varnado.

What makes Mississippi State especially dangerous is the Bulldogs’ ability to play multiple styles.

They’ll be able to keep up with Washington’s up-tempo pace in the first round.

If they get past the Huskies, they are equally capable of switching gears and grinding out a low scoring affair against Purdue.

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Re: March Madness News and Notes

Can Memphis Steal A National Championship
By: Brad Diamond Sports

Memphis finished the regular season at 31-3 SU, while going an incredible 16-0 run in the C-USA. They roasted their opposition with the nation's longest winning streak at 23 games. Memphis averaged 74.1 points per game and defended in whitewash fashion at 56.9 points per game.

Granted this unit has changed their approach to offense as they lost electrifying PG Derrick Rose to the NBA who would run the length of the court without committing a second of thought to the contrary. Plus the losses of Dorsey and Douglas-Robert supported their run and gun philosophy. Now Calipari has built an offense that reminds us of an old eastern seaboard type of the 1960's club which echoed "possession is the golden rule" focusing on a deliberate attack.

PG Tyreke Evans is a frosh and has never faced the pressure of an NCAA Tournament. The team 2008-2009 assist/turnover ratio was 1.1, but again, the number was accrued in conference. Make no mistake the C-USA is not the Big East. Where the Tigers can overcome the possible inconsistent play of Evans is on the defensive side as they averaged 8.8 steals per game. Plus Memphis picked up over 6 blocks per game, both outstanding support evidence that maybe Memphis can overcome their shortcomings.

For the most part Calipari goes ten deep with four double digit scorers in Evans, Dozier, Taggart (Iowa State transfer) and Anderson (AA-Defense). Reserve Doneal Mack (8.9)has been getting more playing time averaging over 25 minutes this season, but is a horrible foul shooter (59%) and usually is not in the game down the stretch.

The last three years Memphis has gone dancing to the tune of 11-3 SU. Their losses were to Kansas (2008), Ohio State (2007) and UCLA (2006). The last two years they've come out of the South Region, 2006 out of the West. The 2009 selection committee placed the Tigers out west where they will open with Cal-State Northridge, then most likely play Maryland (California). If the data falls right, Missouri will be their opponent in game #3, if they survive, Memphis no doubt will matched up with Connecticut. Yes, the Tigers will be getting a small number on the national stage once again. Will you take the chance with the developing unit? Remember, if the Tigers win over UConn they will probably face Ricky Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals.

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Re: March Madness News and Notes

NCAA Tourney Primer
By Andy Iskoe

With Morehead State having defeated Alabama State in Dayton on Tuesday night, we now have the 64-team field that will begin play on Thursday at four sites around the country to begin the chase to crowning the national champion on Monday, April 6 in Detroit.

In looking over the field for this season's Tournament and in trying to fill out brackets, it's always easiest to make a case for the top-seeded teams -- those seeded 1 or 2 -- to advance deep into the Tourney.

But last season marked the first time that all four # 1 seeds made it to the Final Four in the 24 years that there have been fields of 64 teams. In fact, prior to last seaon the last time as many as 3 # 1 seeds made the Final Four was in 1999. In the 8 Tournaments in between 2 # 1 seeds made the Final Four 4 times, only 1 # 1 seed made it 3 times and once, in 2006, NO # 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four.

Of the 96 teams that have made the Final Four since 1985, 42 of those teams (44 %) have been # 1 seeds and 54 of those teams (56%) were other than # 1 seeds (21 were # 2 seeds, 12 # 3, 9 # 4, 4 # 5, 3 # 6, 0 # 7, 3 # 8, 0 # 9, 0 # 10, 2 # 11, 0 # 12 or higher).

Even looking short term -- the lst 4 Tournaments -- of the 16 teams to make the Final Four there have been 8 # 1's (including the 4 last season), 3 # 2's, 1 # 3, 2 # 4's, 1 # 5 amd 1 # 11.

So using history as a guide the most likely scenario calls for two # 1 seeds to make this season's Final Four. There is a good chance that either a # 2 and a # 3 seed will fill out the final four or a # 2/# 3 seed and a team seeded # 4 or lower will fill out the Final Four.

Tomorrow I shall be sending out 3 sets of brackets. One will take an "aggressive" approach that will focus on picking upsets, especially in the early rounds, with a couple of those early upset teams making a deep run into the Tournament. My second set will take a "moderate" approach that will focus on a number of early upsets but with form holding true later in the Tournament. My third set will take a "conservative" approach that limits the number of "major" upsets but still calls for other than all # 1 seeds to advance to the Final Four.

Many of you participate in Office Pools and might find one or all of the Brackets helpful in making your selections as some pools reward risk takers who correctly forecast upsets while others are more geared to just picking the most number of winners while yet others use a hybrid approach that rewards not just picking the most winners but weighting the value of the winner so that correctly picking a # 5 seed to win a game is worth more than correctly picking a # 1 seed to win a game.

Of course all brackets rely on how successful you are in picking winners in the first round of the Tournament as more than half of all games -- 32 of the total 63 -- are played over the opening Thursday and Friday.

Here's where history becomes important. On average 75% of the higher seeded teams (i.e. the "better" team) win their opening round game. Since 1985 there have been 768 opening round games and the higher/better seeded team has won 580 of those games, 75.5 %.

The most formful opening round occured in 2000 when the higher/better seed won 29 of 32 games. The least formful opening round was a year later, in 2001, when the higher/better seed won just 19 opening round games with the lower/weaker seed winning 13 of them.

Since those 2 "extreme" seasons of 2000 & 2001, from 2002 through 2008 a total of 7 Tournaments have been played, involving 224 opening round games. The higher/better seed has won 175 games (78 %) and the lower/weaker seeded team has won 49 games (22 %).

Of the four # 1 seeds this season, Louisville has been made the overall # 1 seed and they do appear to be the strongest team in the field based on overall accomplishments. The Cardinals won both the regular season title and the Big East Conference Tournament. But 2 of their 5 losses came to teams that did not make the NCAA Tournament (UNLV and Notre Dame) and their most recent loss was a 33 point loss at Notre Dame in mid February. None of the 3 other top seeds lost a game by more than 14 points and of UConn's 4 losses, Pitt's 4 losses and North Carolina's 4 losses the only losses to non-NCAA Tournament teams were Pitt's 8 point loss at Providence and UConn's 11 point loss at home to Georgetown in their opening conference game.

Both Connecticut and North Carolina have injury concerns.

UConn's loss of Jeome Dyson for the balance of the season on February 11 has been felt as 3 of their 4 losses have come following his injury and the Huskies are just 4-3 without him, including a first game loss in the Big East Tournament (that incredible 6 overtime game with Syracuse).

North Carolina's injury concerns are less of a factor as G Ty Lawson may be unable to play in the Tar Heels' opener against Radford, but should be back for their second round game against either Butler or LSU and almost certainly for any Sweet 16 game. Whether or not he will be close to 100 percent or fully effective is subject to conjecture.

Pittsburgh has the nation's # 2 RPI (second only to Duke by just .0007) and tied with Memphis for the most wins by more than 10 points all season, 24. Only 4 other teams had at least 20 wins by 11 points or more (Gonzaga with 20, Davidon and Missouri with 21 each, North Carolina with 22). It can be argued that of this six pack Pitt played the most demanding schedule (slighty tougher than Carolina's according to RPI).

Thus my ranking of the # 1 seeds in terms of likelihood to make the Final Four would be Pitt, North Carolina and Connecticut, with North Carolina holding only the slightest of edges over North Carolina, although Pitt has the worst NCAA Tournament historical profile of the four, thereby leaving EACH of the # 1 seeds with significant vulnerabilities.

Of the four # 2 seeds -- Duke, Kansas, Oklahoma and Memphis -- Memphis rates the highest and has the best current form but also plays in the weakest conference. Both Memphis and Kansas, the team that defeated Memphis for last season's National Title, have lost a lot of talent from last season's teams, making their march into this season's Tournament even the more impressive. Oklahoma arguably has the best player in the Tournament (Blake Griffin). Oklahoma is one of just 4 teams to have not lost any game this season by double digits (Butler, Memphis and North Carolina are the others).

In looking for potential "dark horse" teams to make a deep run in the Tournament I like to focus on teams held at odds of 25-1 or higher (to reach the Elite 8) and teams at odds of 35-1 or higher (to reach the Sweet Sixteen) when the possibility of "hedging" enters the picture.

This usually permits evaluation of all but the top 10 to 12 teams as the odds are highly stacked in favor of the teams seeded 1, 2 and often 3.

For example, at the Las Vegas Hilton North Carolina is favored at 4-1 with Louisville at 5-1, Pitt at 7-1 and UConn also at 7-1. The # 2 seeds are slightly better priced with Memphis at 12-1 and Duke, Michigan State and Oklahoma each at 15-1. Only 1 other team, Syracuse (a # 3 seed) opened at less than 25-1 with the Orange offerred at 15-1.

The Hilton offers 50 wagering options for the team to win it all with 49 individual teams having listed odds and the field (comprised of the lowest seeds, generally 13, 14, 15 and 16) offered at 200-1.

Thus aside from the field there are 40 teams listed at odds of from 25-1 to 1000-1.

As mentioned above my approach has been to look for teams that have a reasonable chance of winning their first two games and advance to the Sweet 16 to provide hedging chances with odds of 35-1 or greater and/or for teams I think can make it to the Elite 8 with odds of 25-1 or higher.

Although I may have made some plays at attractive odds during the regular season (usually picking out a few teams in mid January that have shown signs of being solid contenders at what are then long odds but with a chance for a top 3 seed) the process starts anew once the Brackets are announced and each team's path to the Final Four is outlined.

To make it to the Sweet 16 a team needs to only win its first two games.

To make it to the Elite 8 -- the Regional Finals -- a teams must win 3 games. Note that in order to make it to the Elite 8 a team will have had to defeat a team seeded 1, 2, 3 or 4 or knock off a team that has already defeated a 1, 2, 3 or 4 seed. The most likely scenario for this is when a # 2 or # 3 seed faces a team that has already upset a # 2 or # 3 seed (ie. a 3 seed facing a 7 seed that upset a 2 seed in the second round or a 2 seed facing a 6 seed that upset a 3 seed in the second round). Thus the key here is to find a 6 or 7 seed capable of stepping up in class. Such teams will thus have to pull off a pair of upsets to reach the Elite 8 before ending their run often against a # 1 seed.

As indicated earlier of the 96 teams to make the Final Four since 1985, 84 of them have been seeded at # 4 or higher (87.5 %). Only 12 teams seeded # 5 or lower have reached the Final Four -- or about 1 every 2 years. With 4 # 1's making the Final Four last season and 2 #1's and # 2's making it a year earlier this may be the year we see a team seeded # 5 or lower make that deep run.

Three seasons ago, in 2006, when # 11 seed George Mason made the Final Four they were joined by a # 2, a # 3 and a # 4, making it just 1 teams seeded # 5 or lower out of the last 12 and just 2 such teams out of the last 16.

There could be two ways to interpret this phenomenon. Either we are due for some more "Cinderellas" to make the Final Four or there has been some sort of fundamental change in the game that has created enough of a gap between the top 15-20 teams in the nation and the rest of college basketball. In line with this second possibility is the Selection Committee's continued reduction of at large bids given to so-called mid majors in favor of inviting middle of the pack teams from the major conferences who have already shown -- by their middle of the pack ranking -- that they are incapable of knocking off 4 straight teams, at least 2 of which would represent a stepping up in class.

My impression is that we are due for another lower seeded team to make the Final Four given the great amount of talent that is spread throughout college basketball. It would not surprise me at all if one or more of the 5 teams I've listed above as "long shots" makes the Final Four, 4 of which (Gonzaga, Purdue, UCLA and West Virginia) are seeded below a # 4.

A quartet of teams that are well coached and have Tournament experience in recent seasons that are highly priced and might be poised to make a run include Texas (100-1), Xavier (100-1), Ohio State (200-1) and Wisconsin (100-1). Even just a 20 dollar play on these teams would return 4 figures if they went all the way, meaning plenty of hedge room should that team make it through the first two rounds.

Best of luck and enjoy the Tournament!

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Re: March Madness News and Notes

East Region Preview
By Robert Ferringo

Points are going to be at a premium in the East (Boston) Region of the NCAA Tournament and if "defense wins championships" then there's a good chance that our next national title winner could emerge from this group. Florida State (No. 7), Xavier (No. 13), American (No. 21), VCU (No. 27), Minnesota (No. 34) Villanova (No. 43), Texas (No. 47), ETSU (No. 52) and Binghamton (No. 57) give the region nine teams ranked in the Top 60 in field goal defense. And that's not even mentioning known defensive powers in Pittsburgh and Wisconsin.

Size and strength is the clear theme in the East, but placed amidst the sluggers are several teams whose offensive acumen could pose serious problems for the rest of the bracket. Oklahoma State, Tennessee and Duke don't put much of a premium on stopping opponents as they do overwhelming them with their offensive arsenal. As a result, these high fliers are going to make interesting foils to their defensive-minded brethren.

Here's one man's look at the East (Boston) Region, including the current odds for teams to win the region:

No. 1 Seed: Pittsburgh (28-4 straight-up, 16-9-1 against the spread, -165 to win the region)

Despite the fact that Pittsburgh has made exactly zero Final Fours in the last 20 years, this perennially disappointing tournament team has been crowned as the No. 2 favorite to cut down the nets. With Sam Young and DeJuan Blair the Panthers have two blue-chip NBA talents. Point guard Levance Fields is solid but not spectacular and is surrounded by a group of strong role players. The issue, as has been the problem in the past, is scoring. This team doesn't have many sharpshooters and if Blair or Young are in foul trouble or having an off night then the points dry up quickly. I also have a big problem with Pitt's schedule this year. This is a team that went through the Big East ringer. But they didn't challenge themselves (besides one game at FSU) in the nonconference. I still don't see this team as a championship-caliber club.

No. 2 Seed: Duke (28-6 SU, 16-17 ATS, +200)

Everyone loves to hate the Blue Devils. And with good reason. But this is still a team that can play with anyone in the country and they have to be taken seriously. However, the same issue that I've had with this team is present right now: they are soft. I'm talking Downey soft. They have one of the best perimeter attacks in the game and if they are knocking down their threes than their opponents are in serious trouble. But this team has zero post presence. They haven't made it out of the opening weekend three straight years and they haven't been past the Sweet 16 since 2004. And that's mainly because they run into teams that are flat-out tougher than they are -- like Texas, UCLA, Pitt or Villanova, all of which are in Duke's bracket. Further, this has been a bad road team. They are just 5-5 in true road games and have losses at B.C. and at Michigan. Duke is just 5-8 ATS in its last 13 and 8-13 ATS in its last 21 games.

No. 3 Seed: Villanova (26-7 SU, 16-13 ATS, +800)

The Wildcats had a weird run in the Big East Tournament and are a clear X-Factor in this region. They have a tremendous advantage of being able to play at home in Philly in the first two rounds. But a tricky draw that could pit them against UCLA in the second round isn't conducive to a long stay. They have four strong guards, including the dynamic Scottie Reynolds, and four strong forwards, including Dante Cunningham. But Reynolds was not nearly the same player in New York after he got slammed to the floor late in the Marquette game. He's been in a daze since and he has to be at his best in order for this team to hit its potential. They have the talent to make a Final Four run (they were a Sweet 16 team last year) and their offensive and defensive efficiency numbers suggest a long stay in the tourney. But the question is whether or not they can put it together.

No. 4 Seed: Xavier (25-7 SU, 17-13 ATS, +7500)

Xavier is a team that is really hard to pin down in this field. On the one hand I love their experience and their interior presence. B.J. Raymond, Derek Brown, C.J. Anderson are Jason Love are guys that have Been There and gotten it done in March. But they are relying on an unproven freshman point guard to guide them and that guy, Terrell Holloway, has been pretty average. Average doesn't cut it. Xavier closed the year just 5-5 SU and 4-7-1 ATS so they are not playing their best ball, and the fact that the No. 4 seed has just the ninth-best odds to win the region is a red flag. But the X-Men have wins over Missouri, Memphis and LSU - all on the road - so they clearly have the ability to make another deep run.

No. 5 Seed: Florida State (25-9 SU, 18-9-1 ATS, +2000)

The Seminoles are one of the best defensive teams in the country (No. 7 overall) and have a legit go-to guy in Toney Douglas (21.3 ppg). Those two facets right there make them something to be reckoned with. Add on top of that this team has been snubbed from the past two tournaments as one of the last teams out of the field. They have nice wins over UNC, Cal, Florida and Western Kentucky, as well as decent toe-to-toe matchups with Pitt and Duke. Shooting can be a problem. This team doesn't shoot a high percentage and if Douglas is off then it will be a real short dance. He is their only double-digit scorer and that is usually a huge red flag to me that this team can't be taken too seriously.

Best first-round match up: No. 8 Oklahoma State vs. No. 9 Tennessee

This is going to be a fun game to watch. These are two reckless, up-tempo, athletic, no-shot-is-a-bad-shot teams whose styles perfectly match up. Oklahoma State essentially plays with four guards and is constantly on the attack. Tennessee's post players all think they are guards and want to score 90 points every game they step on the floor. Neither team takes care of the ball and neither team protects the basket.

Best potential second-round match up: No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 6 UCLA

UCLA is feeling incredibly disrespected by their seed. And for good reason. A whopping 19 of their 24 wins this year have come by nine points or more so they are a blowout waiting to happen. And after three consecutive Final Fours - think about that for a second - it's clear that this group knows how to win in March. Villanova does have the benefit of playing at home in Philadelphia. But UCLA will be a very live dog and a potential Collison-Shipp-Holiday matchup against Reynolds-Fisher-Stokes is definitely must-see TV.

Upset Alert (first round): No. 5 Florida State vs. No. 12 Wisconsin

Ohio State nearly won the Big Ten title but they were outplayed for about 35 minutes by a very focused, experienced, talented Wisconsin team. The Badgers are tough because they have Bo Ryan, coaching royalty, on the bench and because they have a load of players with tournament experience. These clubs play at a very similar pace and play a similar style. That's a benefit to the underdog. And when you consider that FSU is coming off an emotional run to the ACC Finals, in which they had to play North Carolina and Duke back-to-back, they could be primed for a letdown. Throw in a long trip out to Boise and the fact that the spread in this game is just 2.5 and we could have a classic 12-over-5 upset.

Upset Alert (second round): No. 1 Pittsburgh vs. No. 8 Oklahoma State (Or Tennessee)

I actually don't think that Pittsburgh is going to make it out of the first weekend and either of these clubs will be a very live dog. Either the Cowboys or the Volunteers are going to be a very tough matchup for Pitt because both clubs are so adept at putting the ball in the hole. That's something Pitt struggles with. If the Panthers can turn it into a half-court game then they could be in their element. But neither OSU nor UT will willingly slow down or alter their styles. The Panthers are just 2-5 ATS against teams whose "tempo" ranks at 90 or less (fast teams) and their losses to 'Nova, Louisville and Providence all fit into that category.

Dark Horse team: No. 8 Oklahoma State

Let me start by saying that Travis Ford is a coaching stud. And 15 years from now we're going to be talking about this guy as one of the greats in the game. He has a team with a lot of experience and some exceptional perimeter skill and this team is peaking at the right time. They are 8-2 SU in their last 10 games, with their only losses at Oklahoma and against Missouri. Even if they didn't have much success, this team played some powers (Gonzaga, Michigan State, Washington) in the nonconference. But because they have zero - and I mean, ZERO - post presence this team could get romped by Tennessee and no one would bat an eye. Or they could beat Pitt and go to the Sweet 16, where they would likely face another half-court team (Florida State, Xavier, Wisconsin).

Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 5 Florida State

The Seminoles are a team that I loved coming into March. But I almost feel like they would have been better off losing in the ACC semifinals. I definitely worry about how they are going to respond to the letdown of losing to Duke in that championship game. They have a very tough draw in the opening round and a win has them running into Xavier in Round 2. Again, they have all of the pieces but a tough draw and are in a difficult position.

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Re: March Madness News and Notes

Midwest Region Preview
by Robert Ferringo

The Midwest Region features the No. 1 overall seed (Louisville) as well as a bunch of conference tournament flameouts from the BCS conferences. Michigan State, Kansas, and Wake Forest each bowed out early - and by early I mean pretty much right after they arrived - so it's a little tough to tell who is going to be the primary challenger in this region. And as a result, if you're looking for some wackiness to occur that will bust your bracket I think that this is Exhibit A.

Here's one man's look at the Midwest (Indianapolis) Region:

No. 1 Seed: Louisville

I made my opinions clear on the Louisville Cardinals in this article here. However, even though I think that the Cardinals are overrated going into the tournament they also have the benefit of a perfect path to the Final Four. I think the only team that really matches up with them, physically and schematically, is Wake Forest. But I'm more than willing to bet that the Demon Deacons won't be around to test the Cards in the second weekend. That would leave Kansas, West Virginia or Michigan State from the bottom of the bracket and any of those three would be an interesting matchup. This is a veteran team that can choke people out with its defense. But what I wonder is if there is a team that can handle the Cards' pressure and can ring up points I don't think Louisville can keep up.

No. 2 Seed: Michigan State

The Spartans might be somewhat of a soft No. 2 seed because of what I feel they have or have not accomplished this season. But there is no doubt that they are anything but a soft team. This Spartans squad is typical Tom Izzo: hard as a north Michigan winter. This is the type of team that you have to beat, because it will not beat itself. They rebound, they defend, they make free throws, and they make you play their game. In the second round they would face either Boston College or USC and I think that this Spartans squad has the interior power to handle either. Before their loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten tourney the Spartans had gone 21-3 since getting blasted by North Carolina. If they can sustain that type of excellence they can get hot and win four games to come out of this bracket.

No. 3 Seed: Kansas

Kansas is a team that has exceeded expectations throughout this season. And as a result they have been the biggest moneymakers in college basketball this season. They are the defending national champions and have one of the best inside-out combos in the country with Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins. However, there is something about this Jayhawks team that I have been wary of the entire year. Primarily, it's their lack of experience and their lack of quality road performances. I think the Big 12 was soft this year and I think that KU's early exit in the Big 12 Tournament could be a harbinger. Now, the Jayhawks have proven that they can compete with Top 15 competition. But they haven't wandered too far away from their comfy home too much this year and I still question their salt in a tough spot.

Also, let's not forget that if it were not for an Epic collapse by Memphis last year Bill Self - for all his wizardry this season - would still be the Guy Who Couldn't Get It Done In March.

No. 4 Seed: Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons are shaky with a capital "S". This squad has as much physical talent as any team in the country and they have a cold-blooded assassin in Jeff Teague. However, this team has played like hell on the road over the last month of the season. They lost at Georgia Tech, at Miami, at N.C. State and at Duke, and they had a hard time putting away Virginia and Maryland. In fact, they are just 8-6 in their last 14 games since laying one on Clemson in mid-January. This team has been an earner all year but I just don't know if they have it in them. Teams have also discovered Wake's weakness and have really been exploiting it: this team lacks shooters. Teams have been packing it in against the Deacons and they simply cannot consistently hit from deep.

No. 5 Seed: Utah

I know that everyone in the country seems to already be penciling in Arizona's statement run through the Midwest Region and that this game with the Utes is a mere formality. You couldn't make a bigger mistake when looking at the first round matchups. Luke Nevill is an absolute stud in the middle and this Utes squad is experienced, talented, proven and definitely under-appreciated. The Utes are a senior-laden squad that plays deliberately on the offensive end and aggressively on defense. Keep an eye on Tyler Kepkay. He's only their fourth-leading scorer, but he is definitely the go-to perimeter player and he is absolutely fearless in the clutch. If you're not sure how this Utah team can hold up, just ask LSU.

Best first-round match up: No. 5 Utah vs. No. 12 Arizona

Like I just said, I think that this is going to be one of the best games of the first round and that Utah is nobody's patsy. I think that Nevill matches up very well with Jordan Hill. Nevill could definitely get Hill in foul trouble with his array of post moves and defensively Nevill is the type of bigger, longer center that has traditionally given Hill problems. Arizona has a history of first-round flameouts recently and right now is everyone's "lock". Well, the Mountain West was very underrated this year and I think that the regular season and tournament champions will have something to say about how long the Wildcats last. The matchup to watch is Kepkay vs. Nic Wise. Those are two of the toughest, most clutch point guards in the country and I think whichever wins the battle, their team wins the war.

Best potential second-round match up: No. 4 Wake Forest vs. No. 12 Arizona

I would be willing to wager that about three of every four brackets in the country right now have this second round matchup. However, I hate to be the one to tell you, I will be really surprised if both of these schools are still standing on Saturday/Sunday. One of these clubs is going to get upset in the opener. But if they don't, this game would feature no less than five blue chip NBA talents.

Upset Alert (first round): No. 4 Wake Forest vs. No. 13 Cleveland State

The Deacons draw a very tricky Cleveland State team in the opening round and I think this will be a tough matchup for them. I think that Wake Forest compares very favorably to Syracuse and this same Vikings squad beat SU in The Dome this year. Cleveland State is a great defensive team and relies on a solid core of seniors. If they can slow this game down they will force the Deacons to take care of the ball and knock down outside shots. Wake has not played well away from home and they have shown a penchant for playing up or down to the level of their competition. They are definitely on alert.

Upset Alert (second round): No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 6 West Virginia

The Jayhawks are a really dangerous team in this region because if they get on a roll they could roll into Detroit. But before they get off the ground they might have to matchup with a West Virginia squad that is physical, experienced, and led by a Hall of Fame coach. Last year the Mountaineers knocked off No. 2 seed Duke in the second round and they have the ability to pull off another "shocker" if they get a crack at the defending champs.

Dark Horse team: No. 6 West Virginia

It's too easy to say that Arizona is the dark horse team in this region. So I'm going to go to the team that absolutely no one is talking about, and that is the Mountaineers. West Virginia just lined up and hammered - not beat, hammered - a Pittsburgh team that is one of the favorites to cut down the nets in Detroit. Bob Huggins is no first-timer in March and he has a tough-as-nails group that defends, wins on the road, and pounds teams into submission. Keep an eye on Alex Ruoff, who is one of the five best shooters in the nation, and Da'Sean Butler, who might be the most underrated player in the Big East. West Virginia's roster is loaded with players that have had success in the NCAA Tournament (see: Duke) and I think that this crew could definitely find its way into the Elite Eight.

Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 4 Wake Forest

As I've discussed, this is a team with Final Four talent but flameout tendencies. I also think that they really have a tough draw, matchup-wise, in their bracket. If they can survive CSU they might have to win another grinder against Utah or matchup with the momentum and NBA talent of Arizona. A win there would lead to Louisville, which might be their best matchup in the region. After that it would be another physical grinder in either West Virginia or Michigan State. I just think it's too much to ask this inexperience team to play the type of disciplined ball required this time of the year. But oh, that talent…

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Re: March Madness News and Notes


Here are a couple of teams that I feel have a chance to make some noise in the Big Dance. They aren’t high seeds, but they have the make-up to pull an upset or two or push deeper into the tournament than many expect them to.

North Dakota State Bison
The Bison boast one of the best stories of any team in the tournament. Just last season, they were a Division II juggernaut. Now, in their first season as a Division I program, they are the Summit League champion and playing in the NCAA Tournament. And this team is no fluke.

Saul Phillips, a former assistant of Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan, boasts a roster that includes four 5th-year seniors. Point guard Ben Woodside leads the team with 22.8 points and 6.3 assists per game forward Brett Winkelman averages 18.7 points and 7.4 boards per game. These two lead one of the most efficient offenses in the country. North Dakota State is third in the nation in team shooting percentage (49.0%), fifth in team three-point shooting percentage (41.2%) and ninth in scoring (80.8 points per game).

This is a team that has shown the ability to take out big programs. When this senior class was freshmen, they beat Wisconsin in Madison. As sophomores, they took out Marquette in Milwaukee. They nearly took out USC on the road this year and took Florida to the wire in Gainesville last season. The Bison are a team that is primed to make some noise and they have a "home game" vs. the Jayhawks in Minneapolis (230 miles away from the NDSU campus) to open the tourney. Kansas could be the Bison’s first victim.

Purdue Boilermakers

The Boilermakers were one of the surprises of college basketball last season, riding three freshmen and two sophomores to a Big Ten regular season title and a trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. That success led to some high expectations this year that weren’t met due to an onslaught of injuries. Those injuries have now subsided, making the 5th-seeded Boilermakers a threat to make some noise in the tourney.

The biggest health upgrade has come from sophomore Robbie Hummel, who was tabbed the preseason player of the year in the Big Ten following a first-team all-conference selection last year. Hummel suffered from a nagging back injury through the middle months of the season but is back to full strength. He averaged 16 points and 9.3 rebounds in leading Purdue to the Big Ten Tournament championship.

Purdue’s three wins in its conference tourney came against Penn State, Illinois and Ohio State, which are a combined 38 games over .500 on the season. Non-conference teams often have a hard time matching up against Purdue’s physical style of play, and that could continue into this tournament. The Boilermakers are 13th in the country in scoring defense (59.1 points per game) and 11th in team shooting defense (38.8%). That kind of defense shines in the Big Dance.

On the flip side, we feel the following teams are overvalued.

Clemson Tigers

Clemson seems to follow the same pattern year after year. The Tigers use an easy non-conference slate to build up their early-season record, only to fall apart as the season progresses. This year has been no different. Clemson started the season 16-0 but stumbled into the tournament with losses in seven of its last 14 games. The Tigers are just 1-4 in their last five games with that lone win coming against 10-18 Virginia. What has really sealed Clemson’s struggles was a 5-point loss to Georgia Tech, which was 2-14 in the ACC, in the conference tournament.

Clemson’s 23-8 overall record and No. 7 seed make it seem like it should be a good option in the first round. The Tigers are too inconsistent as a team to be trusted. They’ve been wildly inconsistent since dropping their first game of the season and can’t seem to build any continuity, especially on the defensive end. They allowed teams to shoot 45.4 percent in ACC play, 11th in the conference, including just shy of 50 percent over their last five games.

The Tigers are 0-4 in the NCAA Tournament under Oliver Purnell, including a 6-point loss to Villanova as a No. 5 seed last year. That’s a disturbing trend and one that can’t be ignored. A history of postseason failure and poor play heading into the tournament is rarely of sign of good things.

Texas Longhorns

Texas is a team that has built enough of a reputation through past successes that they seem like an obvious choice in the first round of the tourney. That leads to them being overvalued, especially this year. The Longhorns carry a mediocre 3-3 mark in their last six games into the tournament with each of those three wins coming against the bottom half of the Big Twelve.

Lack of consistent guard play has been a downfall of the Longhorns this year. In the past, the likes of D.J. Augustin, Daniel Gibson and T.J. Ford have carried Texas from the point guard position. The Longhorns don’t have that guidance this year. Sure, the diminutive A.J. Abrams leads the team in scoring but he’s a one-dimensional long-distance bomber. If he’s cold, he’s useless. The other two guards in Texas’ 3-guard lineup – Justin Mason and Dogus Balbay – average less than 10 points per game combined. Balbay is the starting point guard for the Horns and has attempted only three 3-point field goals all year. That puts tremendous pressure on Abrams to make shots from deep where as last year he had plenty of help from Augustin. Guard play is very often the difference between a winning team and a losing team in the NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns just can’t match up with the better teams at that position.

The Longhorns are a middle-of-the-pack team both offensively and defensively and don’t have the firepower to make enough noise. Don’t let Texas’ reputation fool you. This team is overvalued.

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Re: March Madness News and Notes

West Region Preview
by Robert Ferringo

Underrated. That's the theme of the West Region of the NCAA Tournament. But while Memphis is the team that most bobbleheads are declaring the most "slighted", I think that you could make a case that they are, in fact, the least slighted team in this conference.

Connecticut was No. 1 at various points in the season and it seems like they are a distant fourth or fifth as a favorite to cut down the nets. Purdue and Washington, while each won either their conference's regular season or tournament title, are the object of a lot of first-round upset predictions. Marquette has been completely written off. Cal and BYU are two of the best shooting teams in the country and were real players in their respective conference races, yet they are afterthoughts.

The only thing that might supercede the talent in this region is the motivation. Here's one man's look at the West (Glendale) Region:

No. 1 Seed: Connecticut

Don't sleep on the Huskies, boys and girls. This team might be the most disrespected No. 1 seed in the Big Dance this year. But in 30 games this year the Huskies have won 27, lost twice to fellow No. 1 seed Pitt, and lost in six overtimes to Syracuse. Not too shabby. This team absolutely dominates the post and is perhaps the best rebounding team in the country. Hasheem Thabeet changes games, Jeff Adrien is one of the most underrated players in the country, and A.J. Price is one of the best clutch guards in the country. I think a critical player for the Huskies is freshman Kemba Walker. The kid has shown flashes. But he'll need to perform in March if this team wants to overcome Jerome Dyson's injury and make a serious run.

No. 2 Seed: Memphis

I wrote an article on the homepage this week about how I felt Memphis was one of the more overrated teams in the country right now. This team has just one win - at Gonzaga, a West Coast Conference team - against teams in the Top 40. They lost to Xavier, Georgetown and Syracuse in their only other three opportunities. This team has virtually no perimeter threats and is one of the worst shooting teams in the country. But they are tremendously physical and athletic in the post and they simply pound teams that don't have an inside presence. This team will try to make a move on the back of its defense. But eventually I think they will run into a team with equal athletes. When that happens, the Tigers are toast.

No. 3 Seed: Missouri

Missouri has emerged as one of the true dark horse teams in the NCAA Tournament and are a sexy pick to make the Final Four after their sweet run to the Big 12 title. This team presses and has the best perimeter defense in the nation, hands down. If teams don't take care of the ball and can't handle the Tigers pressure then games can get ugly in a hurry. This team hasn't been great on the road and they did lose to their two best nonconference opponents (Illinois, Xavier) on neutral courts. Also, pressing teams haven't stuck around very long in recent tournaments. But there is no denying that this team playing great right now and is a force to be reckoned with.

No. 4 Seed: Washington

Very quietly the Huskies dominated an underrated Pac-10 this season. They have four double-digit scorers, one of the top forwards in the country (Jon Brockman) and one of the best freshman in the country (Isaiah Thomas). This team likes to get things going to the basket and get virtually all of their points in the lane or at the free throw line. An issue though is that this club has virtually no nonconference resume and that they have played only 14 games away from home this year, losing half of them. However, I do think that this club is being underestimated at the moment.

No. 5 Seed: Purdue

The Boilermakers have had a star-crossed season this year. They began the season as the Big Ten favorite and a national title contender. Then came a tough overtime loss to Oklahoma in New York followed by a blowout loss at home to Duke. After that, Robbie Hummel's injury lingered throughout conference play and this team slid to just 11-7 in league play. But now Hummel is back and healthy and the Boilers just ripped through the conference tournament to give them a load of momentum heading into this weekend.

Best first-round match up: No. 7 California vs. No. 10 Maryland

Cal is the top three-point shooting team in the entire country and has three of the best perimeter players you can find west of the Mississippi. Maryland has been playing really focused, skilled basketball now for three weeks to squeeze into the tournament field. Greivis Vasquez is one of the top all-around players in the country and if the Terps are good enough to beat UNC and Wake Forest they are good enough to make a run. But Mike Montgomery has this Golden Bears team believing in his system and believing in themselves. This is a tough one to call, but I think the winner has a great shot at upsetting Memphis in the second round.

Best potential second-round match up: No. 4 Washington vs. No. 5 Purdue

These are two of the most underrated clubs in the country heading into the NCAA Tournament and this would be a rare, but interesting, Pac-10 vs. Big Ten matchup. Each club boasts its superstar (Brockman vs. Hummel) and both clubs have a lot of versatility and skill on the wings and in the backcourt. I simply think that these teams match up very well and, because of their proven track records, would give us a great game.

Upset Alert (first round): No. 4 Washington vs. No. 13 Mississippi State

The Huskies are a team that gets most of its offense driving to the basket and tossing in floaters in the lane. But they are facing the premier shot-blocker in the country in Jarvis Varnardo. That's bad news for the Huskies. Mississippi State is a team riding a lot of momentum right now, having won their tournament berth with four straight wins in the SEC Tournament. They surround the perimeter with shooters and they could ride their wave to a first round upset. Also, Washington's two best players - Brockman and Thomas - are two of their worst free throw shooters.

Upset Alert (second round): No. 2 Memphis vs. No. 7 California

This will be a matchup between one of the best perimeter scoring teams in the nation against one of the best perimeter defenses in the nation. Cal is a team that has won at Utah, lost by just three to Florida State, and swept Washington. All three of those teams have comparable size and strength underneath to the Tigers. Again, if Cal is hitting from deep then they can take down any club in the country.

Dark Horse team: No. 5 Purdue

I really like the focus and the mojo that this team has going for it right now. And if they can get to a matchup with Connecticut in the Sweet 16 and win, I don't see anything that can slow this team from a march to the Final Four. This is yet another team whose success simply boils down to its ability to make shots from the perimeter. If Hummel, Keaton Grant, and E-Moore are knocking down threes then this team defends and rebounds well enough to beat anyone.

Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 6 Marquette

There is no doubt that the loss of Dominic James has weakened this team. They were a Final Four sleeper before he was lost for the year and now they are being picked by a lot of bobbleheads to potentially lose in the first round. And that's what gets me: everyone has already written this veteran team off. They did close the year with five losses in six games. But three of those losses were to No. 1 seeds (Pitt, Louisville, UConn) and the other two were to No. 3 seeds (Syracuse, Villanova) in overtime and by one point.

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Re: March Madness News and Notes

South Region Preview
by Robert Ferringo

Every year in the NCAA Tournament there is one region that is just absolutely loaded. I'm talking comically loaded. I'm talking six or seven national title contenders crammed into the same region. Well, this year it's the South Region in Memphis.

If there is any doubt about the talent level in this part of the bracket, just check out what would be the All-South Region if you were putting together an all-star team:

Point Guard - Johnny Flynn
Shooting Guard - Marcus Thornton
Small Forward - James Harden
Power Forward - Blake Griffin
Center - Tyler Hansbrough

That's four 1st Team All-American talents and the SEC Player of the Year. And that is also friggin' ridiculous.

Here's one man's look at the South (Memphis) Region:

No. 1 Seed: North Carolina

There's not much I can tell you about the Tar Heels that you don't already know. This team is still the favorite to win it all despite an injured point guard, a poor conference tournament showing, and the fact that they play absolutely no defense. But this group of Tar Heels does have experience. The core of this team - Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green and Ty Lawson - lost in overtime of the Elite Eight in 2007 and in the Final Four to the eventual champions in 2008. This is their last chance to bring home a title, and they'll have to do it out of the most difficult region on the bracket.

No. 2 Seed: Oklahoma

The Sooners spent practically the entire season in the Top 8 in the country and, I believe, are a bit undervalued right now. Yes, they are just 2-4 in their last six games. But two of those losses came without Blake Griffin, one was at Missouri, and then another was a heated Bedlam game in the Big 12 Tournament. However, I don't let that dampen what this team has shown me throughout the season. They are No. 6 in field goal offense and No. 32 in field goal defense and they possess Griffin, the most dominating player in the country. The key, as always, is getting good guard play. I love Willie Warren's game and Tony Crocker is a savvy vet. But the key player is Austin Johnson, who seems injured and has disappeared in the latter part of the season.

No. 3 Seed: Syracuse

If Syracuse is still playing after the first weekend of the tournament then this is a team that could win it all. Syracuse has been sensational over the last several weeks since they have gotten healthy and since Kristof Ongenut has returned to the lineup. They are coming off an emotionally and physically draining run in the Big East Tournament so this team could be primed for a letdown. But after two consecutive snubs by the NCAA Tournament I think this team will want to make a statement and stick around for a while. They have one of the best backcourts in the country and, again, if they can play with the same energy and passion that they exhibited in New York City then this club will be a tough out.

No. 4 Seed: Gonzaga

Gonzaga has been perpetually overrated in the NCAA Tournament in recent seasons. After a Sweet 16 loss in 2006 the Bulldogs have been bounced in back-to-back first round games. It's the last chance for this group of players and they appear motivated to make a final push. The Bulldogs are one of the best offensive teams in the country and their +17 winning margin per game is one of the best in the country. The problem I have with this team is that they are like a mid-major version of Duke: they are incredibly soft in the middle. This team doesn't defend the post and they could have trouble with an athletic and frantic team like Western Kentucky.

No. 5 Seed: Illinois

The Illini are one of the more dangerous team in the entire bracket because they could be poised for a first round flameout or a Sweet 16 run. Bruce Weber's club has been overachievers all season long but they'll be without their starting point guard, senior three-year starter Chet Frazier. Demetri McCamey is one of the more explosive guards in the region and will be looking to bounce back from a poor showing in the Big Ten tournament. This team is a soft, perimeter oriented team and it all comes down to whether or not they are making shots.

Best first-round match up: No. 8 LSU vs. No. 9 Butler

Butler has feasted on athletic, but undisciplined teams over the last three years and this game sets up very well for them as an underdog. This is a young Bulldogs team and a club that I didn't expect much from this season. But they are disciplined, play great defense, they execute, and they are dangerous because they live (or die) with the three-point shot. LSU is a team that can do some serious damage if they move deeper into the bracket. They have two exceptional players in SEC Player of the Year Marcus Thornton (20.7 ppg) and forward Tasmin Mitchell (16.3 ppg), and solid guard play to go along with an athletic center, Chris Johnson. However, LSU lost three of its four nonconference games to teams ranked in the Top 50 by double digits. That includes a 10-point home loss to Xavier, and 11-point and 30-point losses at Texas A&M and Utah, respectively.

Best potential second-round match up: No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 6 Arizona State

Perhaps the best point guard in the country (Johnny Flynn) and the best perimeter player in the country (James Harden) could square off in a star-studded second-round game. Both of these teams were snubbed from The Big Dance last year and both are looking for retribution. Syracuse has proven itself against the top teams in the country this year while Arizona State has really been mediocre, at best, over the last two seasons against Top 50 opponents. But this is a good matchup for ASU. They can surround the Syracuse zone with shooters and if their supporting players are knocking down shots they could bury the Orange. But Syracuse's guards should decimate any ASU defense thrown at them and the Orange does have a lot of steam right now.

Upset Alert (first round): No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin

This is a prime letdown spot for the Orange after an emotional run in the Big East Tournament. Factor in travel, a noon tip-off, and the natural tendency to look ahead to potential matchups with Arizona State, Oklahoma and North Carolina and I could see a perfect Letdown/Look Ahead situation here. SFA is the No. 1 field goal defense in the country and could slow this game down to a crawl. The boon for Syracuse: SFA is not a good shooting team and they have double-digit losses to Texas Tech and Arkansas this season.

Upset Alert (second round): No. 7 Clemson vs. No. 2 Oklahoma

Clemson is one of the few teams that can actually matchup with the size of Oklahoma. Trevor Booker might be the most underrated forward in the country and it would be a great one-on-one matchup with Griffin. Also, I like Clemson's guards better than OU's backcourt and I think that the running, pressing, trapping style of the Tigers could exploit the Sooners' weakness and help negate Griffin's impact.

Dark Horse team: No. 6 Arizona State

When you have one of the best perimeter players in the field you are going to be dangerous in March. James Harden is unstoppable one-on-one and Jeff Pendergraph gives the Sun Devils a legit post presence to throw the ball into. The Sun Devils have just one win over Top 50 teams over the past two seasons, but their slow pace and quirky offense, coupled with Harden, makes them a very difficult team to prepare for. The key for ASU is knocking down shots. When their supporting players are hitting threes then this offense can be unguardable. This team has shot over 50 percent in its last four games. If they carry that over then this team can be an X-Factor.

Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 3 Syracuse

A lot of people are really high on this Syracuse team. And as my alma mater I obviously have a personal stake in their success. But I just wonder what that run at Madison Square Garden has taken out of them. After that they would have a tricky matchup with Arizona State and then would likely have to tussle with powerhouses Oklahoma and North Carolina. And that's just to get to the Final Four! Syracuse has the talent to play with anyone in the country. Hand's down. And their guard play is sensational. But sometimes they don't do the little things - not turn the ball over, rebound, making free throws - that cost teams this time of the year.

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